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Congressional Concerns Remain as NASA Chief Prepares for China Trip
WASHINGTON — Despite separate requests from two Republican lawmakers, NASA does not plan to formally brief Congress before the agency’s top official heads to China this week for high-level talks about possible cooperation in human spaceflight.
U.S. Reps. Frank Wolf of Virginia and John Culberson of Texas — both Republicans serving on the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee that approves NASA’s annual budgets — are opposed to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden leading any collaborative talks with Chinese officials about manned spaceflight programs when he visits China Oct. 16-21.
Both lawmakers have requested a briefing on the trip before Bolden and his NASA colleagues leave town.
A NASA official said Oct. 12 that Bolden would be tied up in a senior management retreat before he departs Oct. 15 for China. “No formal briefs are scheduled but we will be prepared to answer any questions,” the official said.
In an Oct. 8 letter to Wolf, Bolden outlined his itinerary, characterized the trip as “introductory” and said NASA will not consider any specific proposals from the Chinese for human spaceflight cooperation. He also said a reciprocal visit by Chinese government officials to NASA facilities in November would be guided by “the degree of transparency and openness that is displayed during my visit.”
Bolden told Wolf he has been invited to visit manned spaceflight facilities “that were previously not offered to my predecessors.”
Bolden will be the second NASA administrator to visit China on official agency business. His predecessor, Mike Griffin, told Space News that he was denied access to China’s manned spaceflight facilities when he became the first NASA administrator to lead a delegation there in September 2007.
Wolf, who in an Oct. 5 letter to Bolden requested a security briefing and written details of the trip, said he remained “disappointed” with the plan to engage the Chinese government in preliminary talks on partnering in human spaceflight.
“As you know, I remain ardently opposed to any cooperation with the Chinese and will work to stop the implementation of any U.S.-Chinese human spaceflight programs or information-sharing agreements,” Wolf wrote in an Oct. 12 response to Bolden.
Wolf, an outspoken China critic, is likely to return to the chairmanship of the House Appropriations commerce, justice, science subcommittee if Democrats lose control of the House in upcoming November elections. In his letter, he asked Bolden to get briefed by U.S. intelligence officials on China’s espionage activities and then call him before he leaves on his trip.
Meanwhile, Culberson on Oct. 12 wrote U.S. President Barack Obama to express his opposition to any cooperation in human spaceflight between NASA and China’s space agency without congressional authorization.
“Considering that Congress has raised concerns about and set limitations on cooperation with China, I do not believe it is appropriate for the Administrator to meet with any Chinese officials until Congress is fully briefed on the nature and scope of Mr. Bolden’s trip and planned discussions on cooperation,” Culberson wrote, according to a copy of the letter posted on Culberson’s website.
Also leaving for China this week is White House science chief John Holdren, who will travel to Beijing for the second round of meetings under a U.S.-China Innovation Dialogue, according to White House spokesman Rick Weiss.
“Participants will include representatives from the Departments of State, Treasury, Commerce, Energy, the Office of the US Trade Representative and the United States Trademark and Patent Office,” Weiss said in an Oct. 12 e-mail to Space News. The meeting, which will occur Oct. 13-15, will also include representatives from the private sector, including Microsoft and GE, Weiss said. In addition, Holdren will be traveling to Shanghai where he will deliver a speech Oct. 15 at Tongi University about science, technology and innovation in the Obama administration.